Friday, July 15, 2011

Firecrackers, Peaches, Bears, And More!

by Bobby Aswell, Jr.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love to race!  In fact, my wife says that I’m a ‘racer’, not a ‘runner’.  Needless to say, even I was a little surprised to see that I had 4 races scheduled the first week of July.  It wasn’t planned, it just happened!

Things kicked off on Saturday, July 2nd, with the Firecracker 5K at the Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic Center.  Always a fun race, it combines a competitive field of about 500 runners with a fairly fast course that starts and finishes downhill.

The race started at 8:00 am with the heat and humidity already taking their toll.  With the downhill start, most runners blasted out of the blocks to take ‘advantage’ of the downhill.  I started out conservatively gradually making my way through the field in the first mile, settled in the second mile, and picked up the pace in the third mile passing a few runners in the process finishing in 18:48, 1st age.  After a quick cool down, I signed up for a free massage, ate some goodies, and then attended the awards ceremony before heading home.

Kicking it in at the finish!
The adventure continued in Atlanta on the 4th of July with my favorite race of the year, the Peachtree Road Race 10K.  For each of the past 23 years, regardless of where I’ve been, I’ve always managed to make my way to Atlanta on July 4th to run the race, coming from as far away as Los Angeles, California.  Despite the challenging course and tough conditions, I keep going back for more and don’t plan to stop any time soon!

Starting at 7:30 am in front of Lenox Square in Buckhead, the course is very challenging!  The first 3 miles offer a combination of flat, rolling, and downhill before the real fun begins in mile 4 with ‘Cardiac Hill!’  It doesn’t look so bad but in the middle of a 10K in the middle of the summer, it’s awful!  You continue uphill in mile 5 before finally getting some relief in the 6th mile with a downhill finish into Piedmont Park.

The Big Peach!
My splits were slower than planned the first 3 miles and needless to say, didn’t improve any the last 3 miles.  I ended up finishing in 39:19 but did receive one of the Top 1000 finisher awards.  I was a little disappointed with my time as I was shooting for 38 minutes but due to the conditions, I guess it wasn’t too bad an effort.  I believe the winner, a Kenyan, summed it up best when he said, ‘It’s just too hot!’

Next up was a race I’ve heard about for years but had never run, ‘The Bear.’  My wife ran the race back in 2003 and raved about it!  She said that I definitely needed to run it so I finally took the plunge and signed up this year.

A ‘must do’ race, ‘The Bear’ is a 5 miler that runs from Linville, NC to the top of Grandfather Mountain climbing 1541 feet in the process.  It’s one of the few races where you’re in oxygen debt from the start!  The hills are relentless and seem to never end with the 4th and 5th miles being extremely brutal.

One unique aspect of the race is that is starts on a Thursday night at 7:00 pm.  For me, this worked out great because it gave me the opportunity to pick up another race during the week!  I left home at 3:15 pm and arrived in Linville 2 hours later.  Packet pick-up was under a tent in the parking area so I grabbed my bib number and t-shirt and headed back to the Jeep for a little relaxation before the ‘climb’ began.

Knowing the views would be fantastic, I decided to carry my camera and snap some photos along the way.  After a few announcements, all of the runners piled into the street for the start command and we were off.  The course starts on pavement but quickly switches over to gravel for most of the first 3 miles.  After entering McRae Meadows, runners run a partial lap on the track where the Highland Games take place before proceeding onto the paved road that leads to the top of Grandfather Mountain for the final 2 mile climb.

Awesome view after The Bear!
After finally making my way around the last switchback, I finished in 42:35 and received one of the very nice Top 10% finisher awards.  The views at the top of the mountain were breathtaking and well worth the climb!  After enjoying the view for a while, I took the shuttle back to the parking area to get ready for the drive home.  On the way, I stopped at McDonald’s and wolfed down a Big Mac, 2 apple pies, and large sweet tea, delicious!

Saturday morning brought the 4th and final race on the list, the Grandfather Mountain Marathon.  Even though I had run the race 6 times previously, I didn’t know what to expect this year having run ‘The Bear’ less than 36 hours earlier:  would my legs hold up?  would my body be too tired?  Only time would tell!

Each of the prior times I’ve run the marathon, I’ve stayed in Boone the night before.  This year, I decided to try something different and drive up race morning.  I definitely would’ve caught the worm as I was up at 2:50 am!  After a quick shower, some coffee, and performing a last minute gear check, I was out the door and on the road at 3:15 am.  The drive went by quickly and I arrived at Kidd Brewer Stadium on the campus of Appalachian State University a little after 5:00 am.  After a pit stop, I picked up my packet and headed back to the car to relax before the 6:30 am start.

With the starting temperature in the mid 60's, along with 100% humidity, it was going to be a tough day for racing.  One last pit stop and I was ready to roll so I headed over to the track for the start.  After 1 1/2 laps around the track, we proceeded out of Kidd Brewer Stadium and exited the campus thereby starting the nonstop climbing and descending to McRae Meadows and the finish on the track during the Highland Games.  The uphills wear on you and the downhills can as well.  One of the most difficult portions of the course occurs around mile 16.5, a long, steep climb up a gravel road.  I ran well to this point but was never able to fully recover from that hill.  I continued passing runners and did my best to hang on to the finish.

Nearing the finish line in Grandfather #7!

With about a ½ mile to go, I entered McRae Meadows and made the final climb to the track at the Highland Games finishing in 3:24:19, 2nd age.  Afterwards, I sat in a chair for an hour trying to catch my breath and recover.  During this time, both of my legs went into full leg cramps at the same time causing extreme pain!  Several medical staff worked on my legs for a few minutes and the cramps finally went away.  I finally recovered, picked up my award, and took the shuttle back to Boone for the drive back home.

All in all, it was a great 7 days of racing!  I ran with a lot of friends, finished each of the races healthy, and lived to race another day!  What’s next?  Who knows!  Maybe I’ll try to break my record of 5 races in 36 hours!  Wanna join me?

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